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The unsettled desert

Updated 27 Apr, 2015 03:56pm

Six-and-a-half million acres of sprawling desert, nine men to each square kilometre of sand — yet on that morning, Cholistan seemed very much like a small town. From the settlements near the crumbling fort to the canal-straddled fields miles away, everyone brought up the wedding in the desert, talking about it with the casual familiarity of next-door neighbours.

“Those women there, they wear too much make-up,” said Hafeeza, wrinkling her nose and lowering her voice, as if they really were next door. She lived in the desert too, but her own house, next to Derawar Fort and near a road, seemed to make her regard herself as separate from the nomads deeper inside, where the metalled road faded into the white flatness, dahar, of the desert. “And such glittery clothes…!”

Further away, on land made arable by a trickle of irrigation water and a cocktail of fertilisers and pesticides, Rasheeda’s eyes lit up. That was a family wedding, she said; most of her relatives lived there, in the deep desert. Many years ago, a plot of land had been allotted to her father-in-law; in order to cultivate it, she lived here now with a few of her sons and her daughter and her daughter’s daughter, a sombre-eyed girl of eight. Some weeks ago, this granddaughter had also very nearly been married off, in a tricky case of watta-satta – a form of bride exchange – averted at the very last minute.

This is an excerpt from a story published in Herald's April 2015 issue. Subscribe to Herald in print.